Thursday, December 24, 2009

Looking East

Emanation V, oil on canvas, 15 x 12 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

In the artistic tradition of East Asia, "precise and detailed description of objects was rarely considered a goal. Instead, revealing the essence of an object or a part of the natural world, and evoking feelings and thoughts from the observer, were more important to the artist. In this aesthetic philosophy, a work of art need not be imitative of reality, and the physical properties and expressive qualities of the artist's medium could be appreciated to some measure as independent aesthetic ends. Thus, the fundamental concept of art as essentially a process of abstraction, by definition several degrees removed from reality, is fundamental to East Asian artistic practice, and is arguably East Asian in origin.

"Many writers who championed Abstract Expressionism stressed its historical importance in terms of technical and compositional innovation. Many of the formal and visual attributes they appreciated as advanced in American art, however, had been applied for centuries in East Asian art, including: gestural, semi-controlled techniques of paint application; restriction of color range, often to just black and white; calligraphic methods, emphasizing free linearism; emphasis on the flatness of the pictorial surface; asymmetrical compositions; prominent voids or 'empty' spaces, or fields of mist-like monochrome; and acceptance of accidental effects."

Quoted from Jeffrey Wechsler, "Asian Traditions -- Modern Expressions," in American Art Review (Vol. IX No.6 1997), pp 149-150.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Metaphysics of Painting

Vibration, oil on canvas, 30x30 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

I am an abstract oil painter who creates ethereal, inner landscapes. My current body of work is a meditation on the light, colors, and textures of the American Southwest. I apply the paint as a repetitive, zen-like practice. The image is gradually woven from an accretion of horizontal and vertical brushstrokes, which informs the work with a grid-like structure. Like a mantra, repetition opens the painter's inner essence, an archetypal truth, as it relates to the landscape and one's place on this earth. My work is to pay attention to the emanations and vibrations of Nature, and to express this in a context of spiritual contemplation.

Although eventually obscured within the matrix of layered brushstrokes, the grid transcends narrative and reveals a pure abstract expression of Nature's essence. I build up the painting slowly, with fan-shaped brushes and grid-like brushstrokes. Each stroke represents a moment in time -- the texture and beauty of a single moment. It is overlapped with another stroke, perpendicular to the previous stroke. It goes on like this for days: vertical, then horizontal brushstrokes, each one a moment, the essence of moments from an inner landscape. Music is a big part of this process for me. I listen to medieval sacred chants or Native American flute music in the studio. This music, and its repetitive aura, puts me in a meditative state, and the sequence of brushstrokes becomes a visual metaphor for the chants.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Emanation IV, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

This is the fourth painting in my new series, Emanations. This work addresses specific places that have had an influence upon me, whether it's the beauty of the place, the memories, or the unique light and color. These paintings are about the perception of essences. The essence of rocks, shadows, trees, water, wind, rain, and fog -- these elements emanate a truth about the Universe that is both physical and spiritual. I commune with the unseen and unknowable forces that emanate from a particular place in space and time, and this translates onto the canvas as an archetypal truth. There is no narrative here, just the essence of a place, in that moment, and in the present moment of meditative creation. The process of adding the brushstrokes is slow and steady, weaving color in and out of the white veils as I immerse myself in the details of the paint. Every point of light and color is methodically retained or eliminated. I love to layer the paint so that it is a challenge for the viewer to determine which brushstroke is laying over or under another. The texture that builds from this layering process is seductive and compelling.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I have been working on a talk I will give on Sunday, September 20th, at the Preston Contemporary Art Center. The talk will be a mini-
retrospective of the development of my art, and in going through more than 20 years of work, I am struck by the logical evolution of my technique, the enduring inspiration of the natural world, and the explorations of ambiguous perspectives of scale.

Lyra, mixed media on paper, 4 x 4 inches, © 1989 Diane McGregor

My first serious body of work out of college was mixed-media on paper. I was using watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil and gouache to create meticulous small drawings. These pieces were only about 3 to 4 inches square. It was necessary for me to work small because I was traveling and living abroad during those years. I developed a cross-hatching technique that involved a slow, labor-intensive process of building up layers of ink over watercolor washes. I was making abstractions using astronomical photographs as a visual reference. I was fascinated by the way the macroscopic universe mirrored microscopic worlds. My images could be inspired from galaxies and nebulae, yet relate to forms that could be seen through a microscope.

Labyrinth, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, © 1995 Diane McGregor

I started painting in oils again in 1992 (this was what my formal training was in). I was inspired by living in Hawaii, on the ocean, listening to the waves tumble in at night, watching the water and it's myriad forms during the day. I became interested in illusion, luminous form, and I continued exploring the micro and macro themes. Spirals and wave forms dominated the imagery.

Morning Sounds, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, © 2001 Diane McGregor

When I moved to New Mexico in 2001, the light flooded my senses, and the spirals unraveled and became veils. I was also enchanted with experiencing the four seasons again. This is one of the first paintings I created in my Santa Fe studio. The palette reflects the delicate pinks and golds of the springtime desert landscape.

Neshama, oil on canvas, 18 x 17 inches, © 2005 Diane McGregor

I started to introduce geometric elements into the veil paintings, and I became interested in using the grid.

Sahara, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, © 2007 Diane McGregor

In March of 2006, I went to the Sahara desert to watch a total eclipse of the sun. I camped for a week with a group of Tuareg nomads. The experience astonished me and when I came back to the studio the veil imagery had been swept out of me. I began to work exclusively with the clean lines of geometry. I felt the grid was the answer to expressing the essence of Nature.

Jade Mirror, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches, © 2008 Diane McGregor

Eventually, atmospheric mists began to dissolve the boundaries of the geometric forms, and my paintings began to be more about atmosphere and color. The initial underpainting was built up very slowly with grids of horizontal and vertical brushstrokes, which eventually became so small and smooth that they dissolved into luminous clouds of color and light.

My current work has come full circle: Like those early pen and ink drawings, my oil painting technique today requires a very slow and deliberate buildup of cross-hatched brushstrokes. The work has become more painterly and there is a lot of texture. I love the flickering sensation of light and color that the layered brushstrokes create on the picture plane. The work is more minimal, and references nature and the landscape with an Asian aesthetic.

Andromeda, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

Building up paintings with the grids of brushstrokes has become a meditative practice for me -- it is a slow and labor-intensive process which allows my thoughts to wander into realms of transcendence and infinity. This is my most recent painting, Andromeda. The lack of lines, hard edges, and definitive boundaries imparts a dream-like quality to the painting. The ambiguous perspective invites the viewer to float in resonant, shimmering color fields.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, Composition, 1929, oil on canvas, 45 x 45 cm.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

"Some of the most apparently radical aspects of Mondrian's working method in New York he had in fact refined for decades. Take his practice of working on a table and using the easel primarily to display paintings or even simply as a bare architectural element. With Mondrian, as with Jackson Pollock, working on a horizontal surface...was a crucial means of weakening, though not completely denying, the gravitational sense of top and bottom that underpins all figurative painting."
--Mondrian: The Transatlantic Paintings by Harry Cooper and Ron Spronk, Yale University Press (page 47)

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Double Line and Yellow, 1932, oil on canvas, 45 x 45 cm.
National Galleries of Scotland.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Reductive Impluse

Piet Mondrian, No. 9, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

"Speaking in the broadest art-historical terms, a reductive sensibility pervades much of the avant-garde art of the twentieth century. Spanning from its earliest decades to the new millenium, a progressive aesthetics of formal clarity developed during the century in tandem with the evolution of abstraction. During the 1920s, Piet Mondrian's omission of all extraneous details from his geometric paintings was prompted by a utopian impulse that equated purity of form with spiritual transcendence."
-- Nancy Spector, from Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated), Guggenheim Museum, 2004

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Returning, oil on canvas, 36x36 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always --
A condition of complete simplicity...

- T.S. Eliot, from "Four Quartets"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

White Light

"It is the happiness of eyes that have seen the sea of existence become calm, and now they can never weary of the surface and of the many hues of this tender, shuddering skin of the sea."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Emanation III, oil on canvas, 29 x 22 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

I'm working on a new series of paintings that explore the color white and how it interacts with other hues. The titanium white skin applied over the layers of deeper color beneath express a subdued resonance, and seem to have a calming effect. I have been exploring texture and how that relates to the veiling and unveiling of forms -- layering a brushstroke over a color produces a wonderful texture with the color underneath, and with the white produces a veiling effect that has always been an interest of mine. Using the grid as a matrix, I am pursuing a project which lacks lines, hard edges, and clearly defined shapes. I love the dream-like quality and the ambiguous figure/ground relationship of this new direction in my work. I believe that the grid structure I use to develop the paintings transcends narrative and reveals a pure abstract expression of nature's essence; the continuous, repetitive action of the brushstrokes open up the painter to something beyond the conscious mind -- an archetypal truth.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wisdom of the Paint

Butterfly's Dream, oil on canvas, 24 x 19 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

"Intuition without experience is embarrassing and naive. Only when you have enough experience, can you trust your intuition. When I am painting I find myself in an unnameable world; it is undefinable, but tangible. I manipulate shapes that are completely invented and yet it's as if they must be this way or that. I realize that I am the only person who knows how these forms need to be.

"Now all you have to do is ruin a number of paintings to realize how many pitfalls there are in this process. Holding on to a good detail just for the sake of it is a recipe for disaster. Holding on to something that is not functioning with the whole will ultimately destabilize the painting. I have to be ruthless and throw away what is not functional."

Wise words from Caio Fonseca. This was also an important point that many of my professors would try to get across to us in art school. I believe the paint itself holds a kind of "knowing," and it is up to the artist to commune with the paint, the color, and the process of application. Sometimes, one must realize that the best part of a painting must be destroyed (i.e., painted over) in order to save the entire painting from failure. Over the years, I have become a little more experienced and a little more fearless with every painting I create. I think this is the reason why my newest work is becoming rather painterly and spontaneous. I rely upon my intuition to allow a brushstroke to just BE, without feeling that I have to tidy it up or blend it or "fix" it. This has opened up a new way of being with the paint -- allowing intuition to guide me, and trusting my experience to select what remains and what must be surrendered.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Crossing, oil on canvas, 18x18 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

Lisa Pressman has been orchestrating a wonderful project on her blog that she is asking fellow artists to participate in: what are your top ten artistic influences, and why. Well, it was almost impossible for most artists to stick with just ten, so she eventually raised the bar to fifteen. Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about this aspect of my work, how the influence of other artists has inspired my own work, and why certain artists have been so important to my development as a painter.

Here is my list (the names are in no particular order - I can't imagine choosing the number one artistic influence!):

1) Rebecca Purdum - contemporary artist who I've been following since the 80s - ethereal abstraction (shows at Tilton Gallery, NYC)

2) Sam Scott - my professor at University of Arizona, initiated me into the true painter's life and practice; lyrical abstractions of nature

3) 12th Century Chinese Southern Song painters - poetry of nature and the seasons, veiling and unveiling of forms, contemplative technique

4) Georgia O'Keeffe - paint handling, morphology of forms (the major influence upon my early work)

5) Agnes Martin - repetition, natural order, poetry of painting, the grid

6) Mondrian - composition, subtle balances and rhythms within geometric structures

7) Jackson Pollock - the spontaneous gesture; the importance of psychology and the unconscious

8) Rothko - the luminosity of color

9) Bonnard - light and color, paint handling

10) Turner - abstraction of landscape, use of thick and thin paint, use of light and dark

11) Kandinsky - for the spiritual in art

12) Cezanne - the importance of the underlying structure of a painting

13) Monet - the way he perceived light and color, the broken brushstroke

14) Donald Judd - clean lines, no-nonsense Beauty, repetition, transcending the grid

15) Joan Mitchell - abstraction of nature, luscious use of paint, use of the white ground, importance of the single brushstroke

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spirituality of the Earth

Emanation II, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, © 2009 Diane McGregor

I love this quote by Thomas Berry, who died June 1, age 94. This is an excerpt from his article "The Spirituality of the Earth" (1990):
We need a spirituality that emerges out of a reality deeper than ourselves, even deeper than life, a spirituality that is as deep as the earth process itself, a spirituality born out of the solar system and even out of the heavens beyond the solar system. There in the stars is where the primordial elements take shape in both their physical and psychic aspects. There is a certain triviality in any spiritual discipline that does not experience itself as supported by the spiritual as well as the physical dynamics of the entire cosmic-earth process. A spirituality is a mode of being in which not only the divine and the human commune with each other, but we discover ourselves in the universe and the universe discovers itself in us.
This painting is part of a series I'm doing about memories of growing up near a lovely lake in Connecticut. We had the quintessential babbling brook flowing through our one-acre property. It flowed under a bridge into Canoe Brook Lake, which was across the street. I spent hours at the lake, by the brook, in the forests, with American Indian artifacts and burial mounds. I don't know how many years I lived there, but it was magical.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Creative Space

Deborah T. Colter brought up a great theme in her blog post last week, about finding the space and time to be creative and nurture the muse, without getting blocked by all the extraneous and irrelevant "stuff" of life. This has always been a challenge for artists, and particularly women artists, who have very often put their families and homes before their own creative pursuits.

Emanation I, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

I have found that nurturing the space within is the most important factor when it comes to finding the time and space to paint. I've gone from a huge warehouse studio to a spare bedroom in my home. I've stopped making excuses. I think I procrastinated more in my large spacious studio than in my home studio, where the detritus of everyday life somehow floats in and clutters things up. I have tried to clear my creative mind by being very clear on what my goals as a painter are. I am very clear about what I want in my paintings and what I don't want. I write it down. I contemplate these ideals daily. Somehow, this practice has enabled me to be very creative and productive even in my cramped studio. And I also love being in my studio -- it does not feel like a cramped, unworkable space -- I have a corner where I do my painting and I just love sitting there writing, reading, looking, listening, painting, dreaming. This is very important: to love being in your creative space, internally and externally. But it's the internal clutter that needs to be swept away, not necessarily the bills, pets, books, and papers that make their way into the studio. This internal space needs preparation, supervision, and nourishment. This is where we make our art, in our minds and in our hearts, this sacred space that can give us all we need to create if we just keep it nurtured and free.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Secret Sky

Fly Toward a Secret Sky, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 40 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First, to let go of life.
In the end, to take a step without feet;
to regard this world as invisible,
and to disregard what appears to be the self.

Heart, I said, what a gift it has been
to enter this circle of lovers,
to see beyond seeing itself,
to reach and feel within the breast.
-- Rumi

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Morning Sounds

Since I've moved to New Mexico (it will be 8 years next month), the spring mornings have always enchanted me. I sit on my front porch sipping my tea, the coolness of the air and the warmth of the sun blending into a delicious fusion upon my skin. I have views of the Jemez mountains in the distance, and I can see the cottonwoods down in the valley beginning to leaf out in soft clouds of delicate greens. The little Rio Chupadero has started to flow again from the snowmelt off the mountains, and it's music thrills me as it reaches up the hill to my ears. The songbirds, too, fulfilling their springtime destinies, suffuse the air with sweet melodies. I feel blessed to have this inspiration all around me, floating in and out of my consciousness as I work in the studio during the day. It all trembles in time and space and eventually becomes a painting of how I perceive Nature's essence.

Morning Sounds III, 2008, oil on canvas, 24x24 inches
© 2008 Diane McGregor

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Love Song

Lily, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

Once in a while I'll fall deeply in love with a new painting, for no reason in particular. Lily is one of those paintings -- she's kind of quirky and simple, light-hearted and sweet. She's going to the framers soon, destined to be shipped off to a gallery in Scottsdale, and put up for sale. Sometimes I wish I could keep these small treasures, the ones that really grab my heart. But I believe that a collector should always have the chance to acquire an artist's best work -- not that this little painting is "the Best," but just knowing that she's out there, available, makes the heartache of giving her up a little less severe. When someone eventually has the good taste to purchase Lily, I will be thrilled, knowing she's in a home that loves her and will truly appreciate her. I wonder if collectors know how artists feel about these things, giving up their "babies" for money. I wouldn't have the privilege to continue to paint if I didn't sell my favorite pieces, and usually each painting I create becomes my new "favorite" just after I complete it. It's often hard to let them go, but perhaps if more collectors knew the gratitude and fulfillment that an artist receives when a painting sells, then they would understand it's never just about the money. It's about living, loving, painting -- it's about supporting a life's work.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dream Journey

In the trembling grey of a spring dawn, when the birds were whispering in mysterious cadence among the trees, have you not felt that they were talking to their mates about the flowers?
-- Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea

Alabaster Sky II, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

The Southern Song period of Chinese landscape painting (1127-1279) is the work that most inspires my own aesthetic. The following quotes are from Dreaming the Southern Song Landscape, by Valerie Malenfer Ortiz:

"The most remarkable aspect of Song landscape painting was its role, comparable to that of poetry, of guiding the scholar-viewer toward a deeper understanding of the truth that lies beyond the forms.... To the scholar-elite of the Southern Song, landscape paintings of the type epitomized by Dream Journey embodied the highest philosophical truth." (p 7-8)

"One of the most significant aesthetic qualities of pictorial dream journeys is that they lift the place dreamed out of the normal category of experience. The blurred quality of the flickering images seems to deny the separateness of the objects these images represent." (p 156)

"The business of landscape painting -- nature's principles revealed as a process of transformation that reveals the operation of perception -- is to evoke a moment of contemplation, wherein man might discover his just relationship to an often inexplicable world." (p 156)

Alabaster Sky, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

"Poetic knowledge mediates between understanding and being. It does not consist in a precisely defined style but in an emotional identification with the intuited nature of being....Concentration on poetic effect opened the viewer's mind to li, the organizing pattern of the cosmos." (p 157)

"The ideal of the Southern Song painter was to transcend his own materials and his own ego, so that the form of the object breathes itself upon the paper or silk, with the painter serving as a kind of medium between Nature and painting." (p 158)

My minimalist abstractions reference nature and the landscape, but in a poetic sense, not a literal translation. The dream journey I take through the landscape to find my connection to the cosmic whole is very much grounded in the Asian aesthetic of painting.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Snow

Sensing, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

I finished this small painting the other day, and for some reason was compelled to title it Sensing. I just knew that that was its title. In nature, there is an automatic response to the physical stimulus of light that induces birds to migrate. I kept looking at this painting, thinking it reminded me of spring, or the fragility of spring, the forms still converging and perhaps being obscured by the elements. Then, last night, the snow began. It fell on the plum blossoms, the red tulips, the delicate grape hyacinth. Covering everything, until this morning I awoke to over a foot of snow. I now think I could sense deep within me, on some sort of primal level, that snow was going to fall, a lot of it. Like migratory birds, I was connected to nature on a deeper level and responded to the inner urging, to follow my instincts when it came to titling the painting. This is where abstraction leaves me breathless with wonder -- I didn't know where the painting came from, or how it arrived, or why I was so certain of its mysterious title.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Whisper the Luminous

Over the past three years my work has been a journey of transformation. Each step of the way has brought me closer to a mature relationship with my work that I have sought for decades. I've gone through a series of geometric compositions, learning about structure, light and atmosphere. I've mastered color through my recent ambient light series, which are minimalist meditations on the luminosity of color. Most recently, I explored new territory with texture, learning about layering and the expressive possibilities of the brushstroke and palette knife. Through it all I have maintained a devotion to the grid, and its potential for transcending the narrative and revealing nature's essence.

Whisper the Luminous, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This is my latest painting, and I believe it incorporates the various elements I've been exploring. There is the grid, deconstructed and reconstructed as form in the figure/ground relationship. There is an elegant minimalism that I've been chasing, that I feel is successful in this painting. The shimmering color field simultaneously holds the forms and dissolves them. Painterly areas of texture and saturate color are left as remnants of the original grid underpainting, contrasting with areas of pristine, flawless blending. And the luminosity of color creates a resonance that fills my heart with joy. The title of this painting, Whisper the Luminous, is from a poem by Hafiz, the mystical Sufi poet.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about Cézanne lately, probably because of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibit, "Cézanne and Beyond." I have a fascinating exhibition catalogue called Cézanne in the Studio from the Getty Museum. It goes into exhaustive scholarly detail about the importance of a single watercolor by Cézanne, Still Life with Blue Pot. As I consider the Philadelphia Museum's extraordinary view of Cézanne's influence on modern and contemporary artists, I have been reflecting on his contributions to the evolution of abstract painting.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Blue Pot, c. 1900-1906, watercolor and graphite on paper,
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA

As the Getty catalogue emphasizes, although Cézanne's world was one full of representational "objects", his canvases revealed the psychological and symbolic correspondences between the object and the viewer. Cézanne's work demanded "recognition of the two-way relation between the inanimate objects of the genre and the animate world of the human subject looking at them, of the set of exchanges, substitutions, and affinities that take place in the studio between the human body and the world of things." This is abstract painting in a nutshell. In abstraction there is only the color, the forms, the light, and the dark, which come into play as "objects of the genre"; the paint handling, bold or soft, invites additional psychological interpretation relative to the viewer's position -- emotional and intellectual. The fact that the artist is both the creator of the image and the viewer, gives Cézanne's self-conscious authority an almost mystical presence. I find this to be the most captivating and compelling dynamic of abstract painting.

(Above quote taken from Cézanne in the Studio, The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, p. 66)

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Between the Pines and the Silence, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
© 2008 Diane McGregor

Gwendolyn Plunkett's Ancient Vessel Art Blog features my work this week. She has invited readers to participate in her Time/Rituals/Collections interactive blog project. Gwen's invitation inspired me to think of my own rituals as I create one of my oil paintings.

I've found one of the most important and necessary rituals I engage in is writing in my journal. Before I start work in the morning, I sit quietly in the studio, with the dawn coming up. I light a candle and begin to write my thoughts, observations, and reflections on the work I'm doing. An important part of this journaling ritual are my affirmations. I have a list of 4 or 5 affirmations that deal with my art and my career, and I spend about 10 or 15 minutes writing them out, over and over. This activity calms me and sets my mood for the day. I will often read poetry at this time as well, finding inspiration in the words and imagery of Neruda, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and others. Sometimes I discover a line or phrase in a poem that I will use as a starting point for the painting. I also seek out my favorite poets to find the titles to my work.

I usually spend a lot of time beforehand looking at the painting that I am about to work on, figuring out where the painting is taking me. I try to listen to what the painting tells me. When I'm ready to paint, I set up my work table. My glass palette is always spotlessly clean before I begin to paint. I pour out 2 cans of odorless mineral spirits for washing the brushes. Then I squeeze out the colors from the paint tubes. I select my color palette for the painting ahead of time, and I usually stick to that palette for the duration of the painting.

My technique is repetitive and process oriented. Vertical and horizontal brushstrokes, applied in many layers, form a grid structure and slowly build up the abstract composition as the brushstrokes accumulate and transform the canvas. The application of the paint is methodical yet allows for chance and unplanned discoveries. Time is an element of the process, as each brushstroke represents a moment, a gesture, a connection.

Another important ritual for me is music -- the music I listen to in the studio is extremely important. I usually always listen to the music of Hildegard of Bingen (or anything by Anonymous 4), which in itself is ritualistic and repetitive, with soaring harmonies and meditative melodies. The music mirrors my painting process in its repetition and meditative qualities. In fact, I will often listen to the same piece of music over and over while working on a particular piece. The repetition of the music adds a subliminal lyric element to the imagery.

When I am finished for the day, usually around sunset, I scrape off my glass palette and clean my brushes with soap and warm water. I have a ritual for washing my brushes too. It's kind of odd and obsessive, actually. I wash each brush exactly 3 times. I then lay them out to dry, and I always let them dry for at least 24 hours. I do this every time, I don't know why.

I was delighted to discover recently a blog called Daily Routines. It includes descriptions of all sorts of rituals and habits of writers, artists, composers, etc. Like many artists and writers, at the end of my day I enjoy a glass of wine as I reflect upon that day's work and consider the next day's direction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Interactive Studio Blog Project

Pam Farrell has an interesting project going on her blog. She gives a peek into artists' studios from all over the world, and it's fascinating to see the different and various creative work spaces. This week she featured my studio, and one of my paintings. My studio is very neat and organized; this is necessary since it's quite a small space. It occupies the largest bedroom in my house, but it has been feeling cramped lately. However, the light is superb and I live in a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and desert vistas. I have been considering renting a larger space in town, which would mean a commute of about half an hour every day into Santa Fe. But I think I need to stay put, not just because of the economy. I find some of my best creative ideas happen at dawn or in the evening just before going to bed. I would miss that very intimate connecting time with my work, when it seems all of Nature conspires to inspire me. I would also miss the presence of my animal companions, who bring a loving and innocent energy into my working space.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stones of the Sky

Center of the Stone, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This is one of the paintings from the previous post that I've just finished. The three paintings that are shown in the studio shot below are inspired by Pablo Neruda's Stones of the Sky, a suite of 30 poems that are love songs to the earth. "Neruda observes eternal metamorphosis at work in stone," writes translator James Nolan. "The permanence of stone in the ragged Chilean landscape becomes the emblem of spiritual transformation contrasted with temporal humanity." I have wandered the Andes and the regions of Chile of which Neruda writes, and I have always had a profound connection to the spiritual nature of stones. I feel connected to them living here in the high mountain desert of Santa Fe.

Here is one of the poems from Stones of the Sky, number XIX , that inspired this painting:
Silence is intensified
into a stone:
broken circles are closed:
the trembling world,
wars, birds, houses,
cities, trains, woods,
the wave that repeats the sea's questions,
the unending passage of dawn,
all arrive at stone, sky nut:
a substantial witness.

The dusty stone on the road
knows Pedro, and his father before,
knows the water from which he was born:
it is the mute word of earth:
it says nothing because it's the heir
of the silence before, of the motionless ocean,
of the empty land.

The stone was there before the wind,
before the man, before the dawn:
it's first movement
was the first music of the river.

(Pablo Neruda, Stones of the Sky, translated by James Nolan, Copper Canyon Press)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Work in Progress

This is a view of the studio with new work in progress, in various stages of completion. I am learning patience. The layers of oil paint need time to dry so that I can build up texture and luminosity. I find I enjoy this part of the process, it forces me to take time to breathe, to watch and listen. It can be frustrating too, as I often really want to keep working on a painting. Sometimes I know exactly where it needs to go, but I know it needs it's own time to wait and germinate. Then the ideas and associations germinate as I wait and watch. Time is a seductive element in the work, as each brushstroke represents a moment in time, each layer a practice in patience.

The largest piece shown here, 36x36, is one which I started a few sessions ago. At this stage, I just need to get the paint on the canvas, I'm not so concerned with where the imagery is going. The other two small ones are much further along. I usually work on 4 or 5 paintings at a time, as I wait for the layers to dry.

Poetry is a tool I use to help guide my paintings. The poems are a deep and subtle influence on the imagery, color palette, and/or mood. I have selected Pablo Neruda's poetry to inspire these three paintings. I often take the poems with me when I walk in the desert and reflect on the work in progress. Everything goes into a painting: the sunrise, the moonlight, the mountains, the music I listen to, the poetry, the fragrance of the wind.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Artist Statement

Aerial Boundary V, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

My work has been evolving at a disturbingly fast pace -- the ethereal layers of blended mists are converging into raw paint, edges are opening up, and through a desire to "simplify" more complexity is exposed. I felt I needed to write a new artist statement to clarify this work that seems to be emerging on its own time schedule.

Conferring With the Moon, 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This is my new Artist Statement:
My work is informed by Nature -- specifically the landscape, the weather, the seasons. These images are not literal representations of a place or environment, but a synthesis of shifting viewpoints and moods. Painting is my way of going beyond the arguments of the conscious mind, allowing the brushstroke to be a quiet reflection of each moment. The painting, then, becomes a record of a solitary, contemplative practice that is both private and shared.

I begin each painting by methodically weaving together horizontal and vertical brushstrokes. This repetitive technique generates a grid-like structure during the very earliest stages of the painting. As the composition gradually emerges from the matrix of layered brushstrokes, a subtle balance of form, color, and texture is intuitively recognized and responded to. The process is extremely meditative, taking me back and forth between emptiness and fullness, surrender and control.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


It is winter here in Santa Fe, and the landscape takes on a mystery and solemnity that influences my perspective. Ravens flying over the frozen hills, shimmering snow-covered fields, everything rests in an otherworldly slumber. Although I am an abstract painter totally devoted to non-representational imagery, all of my work is infused with a rapturous experience of the natural world. My reductive abstractions reference nature and the landscape, and perhaps this is a doorway through which the viewer can enter the painting and connect with it on a deeper level.

Rising, 2009, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
© 2009 Diane McGregor

This perspective became very clear to me as I was resolving my newest painting, just finished a few days ago, Rising. The painting gives me a feeling of dawn, when the blue evaporates and the light rises. There are some calligraphic marks in the center which are partly submerged by a yellow-white crust (maybe a cornfield covered with snow?). A darker bluish band is at the top of the painting, where some black brushstrokes seem to be flying toward the upper edge of the canvas. I can see the painting as a field, viewed from high above, ravens flying across the landscape toward the shadow of the moon. Then the whole composition shifts and you are looking upward toward the sky, the horizon sits below you and the light is rising, the birds are flying up into what's left of the night. As an abstract painter, narrative is something I really try to avoid, but in this painting it opens up to me, and perhaps points toward a new kind of meaning in my work.

I struggled with this painting since last August; then winter arrives, my perspective shifts, and an inevitable poetry comes into being. The relationship I have with a canvas can be very intense and intimate, and this painting took a long time to resolve. Finally, when I saw the "field from above" it all came together. This is interesting since I consider the painting itself a field, in which my investigation of painting is defined by that field and its materials alone. And also interesting that my studio sits on top of a hill -- I look down upon the valley and across to the snow-covered mesas, the mountains in the distance, and the ravens drifting silently over the landscape below me.